Oops! Did I Just Say That? Why Media Training Is Important

Oops! Did I Just Say That? Why Media Training Is Important

This post appeared in CQ Roll Call’s Connectivity Blog

“In downtown SF the degenerates gather like hyenas, spit, urinate, taunt you, sell drugs, get rowdy, they act like they own the center of the city. Like it’s their place of leisure… In actuality it’s the business district for one of the wealthiest cities in the USA. It is a disgrace. I don’t even feel safe walking down the sidewalk without planning out my walking path,” said Greg Gopman, CEO of AngelHack.

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he told the site. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong, and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely,” said Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch.

“Fake goods aren’t totally bad, at least it created jobs at some counterfeit factories…We don’t want to be a brand that nobody wants to copy,” said Patrizio Bertelli, CEO of Prada

Have you ever said something politically incorrect, insulting or simply insensitive that you wish you could take back? What if what you say ends up in a print or online article, or airs on TV and just puts you and your company in a negative light?  That is exactly what happened to the top company executives who made the above statements. And the worst part is that once you say something that appears in the media, it is out there indefinitely. In one second, you can destroy your company’s credibility, reputation and even your livelihood, as some top executives have actually had to resign from their jobs due to bad publicity their statements caused.

One way to avoid a media disaster is to have your company’s spokesperson participate in a media training session led by a trained professional. No matter what type of interview it is – print, online or broadcast – there are fundamental principles that every spokesperson can learn and use during all media interviews. Here are a few strategies that can help to make an interview go more smoothly and result in a positive outcome:

Develop Key Messages

Before every interview, your spokesperson should be equipped with at least three to four key messages that will serve as his/her main talking points during the interview. Key messages can include relevant statistics, interesting anecdotes and survey/poll information. The goal of preparing key messages in advance is to create a roadmap and guide of what your spokesperson can discuss during the interview.  In the event an interview starts to steer off course and goes down a negative path, a spokesperson can always refer back to the key messages if he/she is struggling with what to say.

Deliver Key Messages

It is important to note that most media interviews don’t last very long.  For example in a print interview, most reporters only allocated about 15 minutes for a telephone call. And, of those 15 minutes, you may end up with only one or two quotes, if you are lucky, in the entire article.  Your window of opportunity is very small; therefore, every word that you say has to count and have high impact, which increases the likelihood that it will be used. If your spokesperson can deliver the key messages in sound bites, which are catchy and powerful short phrases/sentences, it makes them come across more interesting to a reporter and increases the chances of getting more ink.

Interview Do’s

  • Research information about the media outlet and reporter prior to the interview.
  • Anticipate tough questions that a reporter may ask and formulate possible responses.
  • Only answer questions you know the answers to.It is ok to say, “I don’t know.” Never lie, speculate or make up an answer.
  • Use uncomplicated but interesting language; avoid jargons.
  • If you state something as a fact, be prepared to provide proof.

Interview Don’ts

  • Avoid using sarcasm. It doesn’t translate well in an interview since comments can be misunderstood and offensive to others.
  • Avoid debating with a reporter. It makes you come cross argumentative and chances are you won’t win the debate because the reporter has the power of the pen.
  • Avoid speaking negatively about your competitors or anyone for that matter.
  • Avoid answering every question with a “no comment.” It makes you look like you have something to hide.
  • Avoid speaking “off the record” with a reporter you don’t know. Your comments can still appear in print if you are not careful.
  • Avoid answering a question with a “yes” or “no.”You can explain your position instead of feeling pressured to choose a side.

Becoming a seasoned, well-spoken spokesperson takes time and effort, but it can be accomplished by implementing these tried and tested strategies. Like everything in life, practice makes perfect. The more interviews you do, the more you learn about the process and the better you eventually become.

Marichelli Hughes is Vice President of Media Relations and Strategic Communications at 720 Strategies.

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